Magical unicorns, bizarre job titles and late nights: How to nail your next customer demo

wonka memeYou’ve worked tirelessly for weeks and your demand generation and nurturing efforts have paid off.  You’ve finally built a relationship with a target customer, you’ve engaged a key sponsor and now he’s coordinating a wider meeting for you to demo your product to his peers and internal decision makers.

You can almost see the sales director updating the opportunity value in as you accept the meeting invite. It’s crunch time.

It’s not unusual for weeks (even months) of marketing effort to come down to this. Up until now the prospect’s understanding of your business, and your offer, has been limited to marketing collaterals. Now, you have 60 minutes to substantiate that marketing position, build new relationships with decision makers and convey your credibility.

Welcome to the live customer demo. You have only one chance.

Get it wrong and you’ve blown it. Your key sponsor won’t want to look bad in front of his peers. You’ll be toxic.

Anyone can talk you through do’s and don’ts of meeting etiquette, but here’s what years of actually participating in live customer demos has taught me.

1. Dealing with detractors

The larger your group, the more chance you’ll have of finding at least one detractor in the room.  Right on cue one of them will interrupt the demo to claim that you offer’s unique differentiator isn’t a differentiator at all. He’s seen dozens of demos in the last 12 months and all purportedly claimed the same functionality.

Even if you know better, this is your nightmare scenario. You may have a fact-based, credible rebuttal, but the damage has been done. He’s probably a great guy; but a late night and no time to grab a coffee before this meeting has soured his mood. He’s now publicly aired an ill-informed and perhaps even deliberately provocative opinion. Unfortunately, at this point in the nascent relationship, the rest of the people in the room are more likely to believe him than you.

If it happens to you, stay composed and ask to address his concerns at the end of the demo. You don’t want to derail the flow with a tit-for-tat game of one-upmanship. In many instances, the rest of the session will be compelling enough that the individual backs down from his position. If he doesn’t, don’t be defensive; but don’t drop your claims of differentiation. Suggest that your product management / marketing team would value his opinion on the competitive landscape and suggest scheduling a separate meeting.

2. Coordinate with the engineering team

The meeting is going well, introductions have been made and the attendees all seem attentive. The product manager fires up his laptop and launches the live demo. It hangs. The spinning wheel just keeps spinning. A nightmare scenario, you’ve lost the room and your credibility is in tatters.

If you’ve prepared, you’ve hopefully got a back-up option, but it’s not ideal and you have no idea why the demo didn’t work.

I’ll tell you why.

Because back at base your engineering team (unaware of your important client meeting) is running routine maintenance on the product or updating the demo version with new features. They scheduled it at midnight to minimize disruption, but they’re in Europe and it’s mid-afternoon where you are on the West Coast.

Trust me, if everything else is working (internet connectivity etc.) then this is the most likely reason for the demo failure. Be honest, it’s probably happened to you too at one point or another.

Make sure the engineering team are aware and publish a copy of the client demo schedule for the coming month. No excuses.

3. Round-Robin introductions are useless

Understand the roles of all participants in advance. Round-robin introductions at the start of a meeting are a waste of time. There, I said it.

In fact they’re nothing more than idle chit-chat, designed to break the ice.  Great, so now you know that Bob is the Chief Curator of Artisan Heat Sinks, but what are you going to do with that information? You have no time to adjust your messaging or prepare for questions from that job role. It’s futile. You’ll spend the next 30 minutes internally trying to fathom what a Chief Curator of Artisan Heat Sinks actually does.

There’s nothing wrong with asking your sponsor, or the coordinator of the session, to outline job descriptions and remits in advance. At least ensure you have everyone’s name; with this you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about the attendees just by trawling LinkedIn.

4. Group Size

On the face of it, it might seem beneficial to invite as many people as possible to the session. Logically you’ll be thinking about getting maximum exposure to as many decision makers and influencers as possible. However a large group can be become difficult to manage and it’s fraught with potential pitfalls.

If you goal is to build relationships, limit the group to six. More than this and it becomes almost impossible to have a dialogue; instead you’ll find yourself talking to (not with) the group in something more akin to a seminar. Also, the larger the group the more chance you have of meeting a detractor (see above).

5. Our magical unicorns are the best: Demonstrate expertise, don’t assert it

Guess what? Everyone’s a world-leader with built-in redundancy, scalable architecture and a button that produces magical unicorns out of shattered dreams. Chances are, your prospect has heard it all before. It’s hyperbole.

Instead look at how you can weave in credibility claims through experience. Perhaps cite a recent deployment where your great new product feature overcame an unknown challenge. It’s more engaging and credible.

6. Keep the corporate background until the end

If you spend the first 15 minutes of the session presenting your company background you might as well just hand over a Xanax with your business card. If you are large, household brand then the attendees will already know who you are. If you aren’t then they probably don’t care about your CSR policies and annual donation of profits to the Amazon rainforest. They’re here to see your product.

Let the technology do the talking while you have everyone’s attention. Keep the corporate information until the end and use it to support your earlier messaging; “That product roadmap we spoke about earlier…well, it’s supported by a 100-strong engineering team split between the US and London and with a new round of investment from our parent company.”  

There’s plenty more do’s and don’ts out there, and plenty of resources available online to help you get the most out of your client meetings. However, consider these factors in your next live client demo and your demand generation team will cheer you home.


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